In the tradition of the grand holiday fruitcake and candy-like confections such as sweetmeats offered up at the end of a meal comes this combination of the two -- a baked fruit-and-nut loaf served in small, thin slices.
This mosaic of dried apricots, dried peaches, dates, figs, shredded coconut and raisins is a delightful addition to the holiday table; it can be served in place of fruitcake, or as a sweet, final fillip to dinner, or with tea or hot mulled cider.
The combination of dried fruits and nuts is compact and rich; what holds the mixture together is not a batter, but rather a can of sweetened condensed milk, a tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of vanilla extract.
The pecans and walnuts may be purchased in pieces, and the pieces left as is (as long as any whole halves are broken in half); pitted dates, apricots, figs and peaches are scissor-cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces, and raisins left whole and plump.
The cut-up fruit and nuts are then combined with the flour-milk-and-extract binder. If you are fond of the flavoring that rum gives to fruitcake-like desserts, you can add 3 to 4 tablespoons of dark rum to the contents of the mixing bowl and give all another stir.
This confection is baked in two lightly oiled loaf pans. The loaves come out especially nice looking when you take care to lightly pack the fruit-nut combination carefully along the sides and into the corners of the pan; this trick eliminates any gaping holes in the finished loaf.
Once cooled, the confection should be double wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for a day or two before slicing, but you might find it difficult not to slice off a hunk or two long before it has a chance to ripen. FRUIT AND NUT CONFECTION (Makes two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 3/4-inch loaves)
This is solid fruit and nuts -- a batterless fruitcake or a special kind of holiday candy. I've had the best luck baking the mixture in non-stick loaf pans; the slippery release surface makes it a breeze to turn out the loaves. If you are not using release surface-lined pans, line the bottom of the loaf pan with brown paper or cooking parchment paper, and oil the insides of the loaf pans very well.
1/2 pound moist, dried figs, cut up into chunks
1/2 pound moist, dried peaches, cut up into chunks
1/2 pound golden raisins
1/4 pound moist, dried apricots, cut up into chunks
1/2 pound pitted dates, cut in half
1 tablespoon unsifted all-purpose flour
1/2 pound walnut pieces
1/2 pound pecan pieces
2 3 1/2-ounce cans sweetened shredded coconut
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
Lightly oil (use a tasteless, plain vegetable oil) the insides of two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans; set aside.
In a very large mixing bowl, combine the figs, peaches, raisins, apricots, dates and flour; toss well. Stir in the walnuts, pecans and shredded coconut.
Pour over the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla extract (and rum if you are using it), and stir everything together. Lightly pack the mixture in even amounts into the prepared loaf pans.
Bake the loaves on a cookie sheet on the lower third-level rack of a 250-degree oven for 80 to 90 minutes; the confection is done when it pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan, and moisture does not ooze up when you gently press down on the top of the fruit and nuts.
Cool the loaves in the pans on a rack for 3 to 4 minutes, then carefully unmold onto a second cooling rack; turn the loaves right-side up, wrap them in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil (or omit the foil and wrap in plastic bags).
Cut the confection into thin slices for serving, using a sharp serrated knife; cut the confection while cold, but serve cool.
The confection may be used plain, for accompanying mousse or ice cream, or served along with other holiday candies.